ICYMI: Congressman Matt Cartwright is setting an example that national Democrats can follow this election cycle. As the only House Democrat running this year to have won a Trump district in 2016, 2018 and 2020, Matt Cartwright is staying focused on the values that matter most to the people of his district.
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Pennsylvania Democrat Uses Tried and True Playbook in Tough Race
- Rep. Matt Cartwright made sure to thank a man wearing a Vietnam veteran cap for his service on a recent Saturday in his northeastern Pennsylvania district. When the veteran identified himself as “a Trump man,” Cartwright (D-Pa.) kept the conversation going. How was the veteran’s health? How was the VA treating him? What’s his phone number? Cartwright punched the digits into his cell and called it, telling the veteran to contact him if he could ever help.
- In a year when dozens of Democrats are facing potential loses in November, Cartwright is a model for how to win. His district not only supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, but Cartwright won it in 2016, 2018 and 2020 — the only Democratic lawmaker running this year who can make that claim. While other candidates in purple districts look to Cartwright as an example, he isn’t taking his past success for granted this year.
- Former New York Rep. Steve Israel, who headed the Democrats’ campaign arm from 2011 to 2015, said Cartwright is “a national model on how Democrats can keep and bring back white working-class communities.” “If you are a Democrat in an increasingly Trump district,” Israel said, “you need to read the playbook that was written by Matt Cartwright.”
- Cartwright’s approach is critical for Democrats in a year when they are projected to lose the House. Although their prospects improved in recent weeks, they continue to be dogged by high inflation and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings. The playbook also will be put to the test in Cartwright’s northeastern Pennsylvania district. Republicans have gone all in for Jim Bognet, who Cartwright beat by only 3.6 percentage points in 2020. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and former President Donald Trump visited the district in the past week.
- Cartwright is sticking to his strategy of going local. In ads, he speaks directly to the camera, focusing on his ties to the district, and his support of an incoming manufacturing facility to turn shale gas into gasoline vehicles can use.
- Cartwright is aware of the increasing polarization between parties. “I work very hard to swim against that stream,” Cartwright said. “Connecting with the local people is the important thing.”
- While Biden and others in his party are touting recent legislative wins and highlighting low unemployment, Cartwright is taking a different path. “Inflation is hurting them,” Cartwright said of voters during an interview at a pizza joint. “Any public official who ignores that fact does so at his or her own peril.”
- Cartwright, 61 and a former lawyer, said 25 years of jury trials has led him to believe people can “smoke out a phony.” He said he tries to “be genuine, let go of all pretense and be who you are.” He’s also worked to connect with voters from the opposite party, including those who back Trump. The way Cartwright sees it, northeast Pennsylvania’s economy never recovered after the North American Free Trade Agreement led to the loss of companies and good paying jobs. Why wouldn’t voters flock to Trump after he promised to renegotiate trade agreements?
- Tarah Probst, the Democratic mayor of Stroudsburg, recalled Cartwright saying in 2017 that he wanted to hug Trump supporters because he recognized their pain. “He realized these people voted for Trump because they feel like they weren’t listened to,” she said. “He empathizes with that and he tries to find common ground with people.”
- Cartwright’s local focus has so far helped him overcome national issues, but if this year is different, he’s not the only Democratic lawmaker at risk. “I’m going to do my dead level best to hold this seat,” Cartwright said at a meet and greet in Milford. “Because I think if we can’t hold this seat, it’s going to be impossible to hold the House.”